Gender balance is not only a women's issue, it is a business issue. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that women in Asia Pacific, if given equal opportunities at work, would create additional GDP equivalent to an economy the combined size of Germany and Austria each year. But looking beyond economic gains, when women lead, they are also active role models of change and progress for their communities.
Take the story of Nusrat Akther Lopa. As a young girl growing up in a conservative family, her aspirations were high but the struggles she faced to get an education and a degree were immense. She wanted to join a company after she received her master's degree but her parents opposed the plan, thinking it was not a woman's place to leave her home and work.
As a skilled clothes designer, she decided to take a course on digital marketing that Facebook was offering to expand her business and explored how best to use the platform to reach more customers. With just Tk 1,200 as her initial seed capital, she soon saw a surge in her customer base and now exports her clothes to more than 12 countries. She expects her turnover to be over Tk 3 crore this year and now employs over seven people.
As we celebrate women like Nusrat, and their achievements on the occasion of International Women's Day, we also have a duty to recognise the hurdles women still face and find the pathway to a more gender-balanced world.
To gain a deeper understanding of the differences between male and female business owners, their experiences, and their needs, we mined the Future of Business Report, a collaboration between Facebook, the World Bank and the OECD, to survey the 90-plus million small businesses on Facebook around the world. It is one of the widest, most global surveys of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) ever conducted.
The latest report shows that in Bangladesh, women business owners on Facebook still face significant funding challenges, with only one in five stating that they currently have a bank loan or a line of credit. We know this is consistent with the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs across the region. Apart from finding it difficult to raise external funding, they often need to work twice as hard to balance professional and familial demands and they are more likely than men to run businesses out of their homes—which can deprive them of the networks needed to grow and scale.
Yet there are many reasons to be optimistic. The flexibility offered by digital technologies is leveling out the playing field. It has enabled a new generation of women entrepreneurs and even one-woman micro-multinationals who tap into the power of community and conversation to grow their businesses. Around the world, a substantial proportion of small businesses on Facebook are owned and led by women. In the 95 countries surveyed, we found that nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) of people identifying as owners or managers of small businesses on Facebook are women.
In Bangladesh, women business owners on Facebook report the helpfulness of social media to their business at a rate that is statistically higher than their male counterparts, nearly 9 in 10 female business owners saying that social media is helpful to their business. Women business owners on our platform in Bangladesh are also benefitting from the role of community and mentorship, with over 3 in 4 saying that they have a role model, of which nearly 6 in 10 say that their role model is a woman.
Connection and mentorship can often make the difference between having a dream and realising it. This is why we continue to invest in #shemeansbusiness—a global initiative designed to help women take the next step in their business ventures. The programme provides financial support, advice, training and a supportive community of mentors and peers. Today, we have trained over 136,000 women and are in 24 countries.
It is exciting to see this vibrant community of women-led businesses on our platform and be part of their growth story. When women entrepreneurs can access the funding, technology and skills needed to succeed, it also enables them to share knowledge and build the future of business together.
Ankhi Das is Public Policy Director, South Asia, Facebook.